Billionaires Buy L.A. School Board Members

First published on: http://crooksandliars.com/2017/05/billionaires-buy-la-school-board-members

Los Angeles’ May 16th election day is coming fast, and citizens are being inundated with fliers, phone calls, texts and emails. Most victims of this advertising tsunami have no clue who exactly is behind this man-made disaster. Thankfully though, someone has been doing their homework. According to Hedgeclippers.org, a group of activists from a variety of citizen organizations, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) has spent a record $4 million in 2017 on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) 2017 Race. Judging by those crazy numbers, either Los Angeles cares more about education than most other cities, or there’s big money to be made in education.

Oh, come on! Of course it’s about the money. LAUSD has more than 640,000 students and a budget of about $7.6 billion is up for grabs. Yes, that’s billion with a B. According to the CCSA, there were 292 charter schools in the LAUSD with over 40,000 students on waiting lists in 2016. Pro-charter organizations anticipate that these numbers will explode should the candidates they are backing win.

And chances are that they’re right. The CCSA alone has increased it’s spending on state and local legislative officials and lobbying of those officials every single year. Last year they spent $602,469.56 with three different firms lobbying for charter school expansion at the state level.

Pro-Charter Candidates Taking Large Donations from Charter Organizations

The California Charter School Association Advocates (CCSAA), the funding arm of the CCSA, is pouring unbelievable amounts of money into the race. Some of that “influence” money, as Betsy DeVos likes to call it, is directly contributed by CCSAA to pro-charter candidates. Some of it is contributed to candidates by the Parent Teacher Alliance (PTA), an organization we all know and love. That is until you look behind the curtain and discover that the CCSAA is funding the PTA.

A word to the wise, whenever you see an organization with a name like the PTA or Students for Education Reform (SFER), chances are the names are intentionally misleading. You might think the SFER is composed of actual students based on it’s title, but it is actually a big business organization like all the other charter school advocates. The name is derived from the claim that students from ivy league schools started the organization. In reality, it is simply a means for organizations and investors to funnel their money to for-profit charter groups without being known.

Candidates taking money from these organizations are pushing hard for charter schools in L.A. just as their masters demand they do. Of major concern is that the LAUSD presidency is up for grabs this year. Public school supporter and incumbent Steve Zimmer has so far kept pace with pro-charter candidate Nick Melvoin. However, Melvoin’s corporate backers have picked up the pace this month. Public school advocates are rightly concerned that voters will have no idea who is behind these candidates since those statistics won’t be released until after the election.

The majority of these corporate interest groups are not even located in L.A. Speak UP, another pro-charter advocate, is located in Pennsylvania. The PTA is out of Sacremento, and SFER is located in New York City of all places. LA Students for Change was a CCSA concept and though students are involved, they are led by CCSA adults. The following is the latest (5/13/2017) breakdown per LAUSD candidate that is being backed by these corporate interests:

Monica Garcia – District 02

  1. CCSAA – $120,374.42
  2. PTA – $42,183.98
  3. SFER – $31,895.20

Nick Melvoin – District 04 and President

  1. PTA – $1,823,462.24 and $1,539,910.86 (ads against Zimmer)
  2. Speak UP – $90,071.93
  3. SFER – $55,532.23
  4. LA Students for Change – $1,277,343.66 (ads against Zimmer)

Kelly Gonez – District 06

  1. CCSAA – $1,961,279.46 and $632,861.09 (ads against Padilla)
  2. PTA – $458,481.67 and $24,369.56 (ads against Padilla)

Billionaires & Millionaires Behind Funding

This labyrinth of pro-charter organizations are funded by a handful of billionaire investors. These families are the ones funding and running the push for deregulation and for-profit educations. Additionally, they are supporters of Trump and the Republican party.

  1. DeVos family from Michigan, Amway Corporation, worth $5.5 billion.
  2. Walton family of Arkansas, Walmart, worth $130 billion
  3. Broad family of California, KB Homes, worth $4 biilion
  4. Richard Riordan of California, fomer mayor of L.A., worth $100 million
  5. Fisher family of California, The Gap, worth $3.3 billion
  6. Michael Bloomberg of New York, New York City mayor, worth $47.5 billion
  7. John and Laura Arnold of Texas, Centaurus Advisors LLC hedge fund, worth $2.8 billion

These groups and their billionaire/millionaire backers want to turn public education into a private industry. Their goal is to access the never ending supply of tax dollars to fund their education corporations. Instead of tax money going directly to schools, they use charter management companies to take a cut from money that was intended for schools. These corporations also are involved in supplying charters with buildings, property, supplies and programs. This enables them to take more of the budget from schools.

L.A. parents and voters should know what exactly who they are putting in office. A vote for these candidates will ensure that taxpayer money for education will be diverted from their children to this giant web of for-profit charter school managers and suppliers. They should also ask themselves why so much money from out of county and state is supporting these candidates.

 

How DeVos Deregulation is Robbing Your Kids’ Education

First published on: http://crooksandliars.com/2017/05/how-devos-deregulation-robbing-your-kids

In September of 2016, the Office of Inspector General released a study on charter management organizations (CMOs). The report targeted their research towards how the use of CMO’s affected education programs, identified problems and recommendations. Even though these charter organizations received federal taxpayer money, Republican led states (which are the majority of states) have demanded that the federal Department of Education get their grubby little hands off of their schools. Their dreams came true with the election of Trump and his appointment of the deregulation and privatization queen of education, Betsy DeVos.

DeVos incessantly preaches about school choice, charters and voucher programs. In her uneducated opinion, she sees value only in deregulated, privately owned schools. I say uneducated because DeVos readily admitted her ignorance of the public education system during her confirmation, and she has expressed no desire nor any intention of educating herself. Her only goal is to have a Department of Education that is simply a bank for private charter schools. Her claim to support public education is an outright lie since so called public charter schools are actually privately owned and managed. She believes the Department of Education should have no say in how that money is spent, what programs it is used for or if that money is used wisely or within any guidelines.

This might seem like an interesting experiment in education reform if it hadn’t already been done. The truth is that the system DeVos is proposing already exists today because states do not bother to follow federal rules and regulations for charters receiving federal grant money. They can’t even be bothered to follow the minimal state requirements. No one is being held accountable for these violations. Regulations don’t mean a hill of beans if you aren’t able to gather data and perform audits. They mean even less when you can’t enforce penalties for violations, whether we are talking about the state or federal level. So, in practice, an unregulated education system has existed for decades.

OIG 2016 Report Summary

A CMO is an organization, whether for-profit or nonprofit, that consists of administrators that run the day to day operations of charter schools. They are responsible for hiring, firing, supplies, education programs, funding from state and federal grants, payroll etc. There is not a consistent definition of CMOs from state to state. Some states require a board of directors for each charter, while others allow a bundling of schools under one board. Additionally, states may have state education associations (SEAs) and local areas can have local education associations (LEAs).

The study found many CMOs with major “internal weaknesses.” This caused financial waste, fraud and abuse. There was a severe lack of accountability which created performance risks because no one from parents to teachers to administrators to legislators could evaluate whether these charters were even reaching their stated goals:

  1. CA, NY and FL could not tell auditors where their Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding went after it was given to LEAs.
  2. PA and CA couldn’t even tell which charters were using CMOs.
  3. MI and FL knew who was using CMOs, but could not provide any other information because those CMOs would not give them the data.
  4. FL did not bother to collect any data on federal grant allocation.
  5. CA, PA and TX could not provide data on how many students were enrolled in charter schools from 2011-2013. NY did not know how many charter school students they had from 2012-2013.
  6. CMO’s, SEAs and LEAs routinely failed to report how they were using federal grants, which is a violation of the Uniform Grant Guidance rules.

How CMO’s Can Rip Off Taxpayers

According to guidelines for those receiving federal education grants, officials cannot participate in decisions if they have a personal or financial interest in the outcome. But that didn’t stop the conflicts of interest. Since states have no reporting requirements, they have no clue what types of fraud are occurring.

The most popular way some CMO officials have skimmed taxpayer grant money to charter schools is by rental agreements. CMOs often own the land and buildings that house the schools they manage. CMO’s can inflate the rental price and therefore take whatever they want for lease agreements. In an effort to distance themselves from the fraudulent inflation of lease prices for schools, CMOs will create a subsidiary company to handle the rental. That subsidiary then sells the property to a partner company that deflates the rent allowing for the parent CMO to keep the extra.

It works like this: ABC Charter School is managed by Great CMO. Great CMO leases property to ABC for $2 million/year. Great CMO creates subsidiary Screw You LLC. Screw You LLC takes over and sells property to a partner firm, You’re Suckers LLP. You’re Suckers LLP then leases property back to Screw You LLC for $1 million/year. Then Screw You LLC has a profit of $1 million/year that goes to its parent company, Great CMO because the school originally paid $2 million/year. They have just taken $1 million/year more than the value of the property from taxpayers. All the while, transaction fees and such are also added.

Other scams involve CMO officials that also own the companies supplying services to the charter. The CMO managers then are the ones drawing up the contracts with the vendors which are essentially themselves. States are not bothering to ask for itemized receipts because they have not set up any systems for monitoring how education funds are being spent. This way John Doe, who owns the textbook company, can charge and approve those charges since he’s also the CMO manager. All this comes from federal and state grants that originate from taxpayers. In TX, an attorney was a member of the CMO while providing legal services to the charter school it managed. When a vote came up regarding how much to pay him for his legal services, he never bothered to recuse himself. As a provider and a member of the school, he used both positions to set his compensation amount.

Many CMO’s will charge exorbitant amounts for their services. The industry standard is set at roughly 14% of the charter’s costs. But many CMOs have been charging as much as 40%. This leaves schools without money for supplies and basic needs. Teachers end up with less pay and benefits because funds are going to the management companies. This explains why Betsy DeVos has also spent millions trying to break up teachers’ unions.

Recommendations

OIG recommended the use of federal oversight, legislative changes, and routine audits. Consistency in the education system is needed to facilitate these recommendations. But none of this is going to happen with Trump and DeVos in office. This confusion and self dealing is exactly what they propose for our children’s education system.

The swamp is overflowing. What say you?

 

Race to the Bottom: The Department of Walmart Education

First published on: http://crooksandliars.com/2017/04/department-walmart-education

I don’t know about you, but whenever I realize that I absolutely have to go to Walmart, which is literally almost never, I have to suppress the urge to puke a bit. I cannot stand to go there. Never in my 45 years have I been to a Walmart that is not absolutely filthy, where the employees don’t look like they would rather be getting dental surgery or where there exists any small measure of decent customer service. I’m aware that this is a personal observation. After all, it’s not as if I have toured the U.S. visiting all of these stores. And I’m also aware that they make money for a reason, that many Americans like them if not love them.

It seems almost nothing can change these Walmart lovers’ minds. Do you recall the 2014 study that found the largest private employer in the country was actually costing Americans over $6.2 billion in taxpayer subsidies? According to the report, Walmart also received $1 billion in tax breaks annually and $70 million in state and local subsidies. Employees were prevented from working full time so that the company could save on health care and other employee benefits packages. Many were on food stamps as well as other assistance. All the while, The Walton family was raking in billions upon billions upon billions. Yet, the Walmart devotees never strayed. Yes it was all very sad, but who could say no to the low, low prices of Doritos, rifles and cold medicine?

The Walmartification of Education

The Walton family now owns only 50% of Walmart stores. Sadly, that means they only make billions upon billions having lost the last chunk of billions. But never fear, for they have invested wisely. So much so that they have been able to give over $1.3 billion, by their own estimates, to K-12 education during the last two decades through their Walton Family Fund.

But it’s not just any education that the Waltons love, it’s for-profit education. The Waltons love charters so much, they even sit on many pro-charter, pro-school choice organizations’ boards. John Walton, Walmart’s founder, co-founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund and the Alliance for School Choice. His granddaughter, Carrie Walton Penner, is on the board of the KIPP Foundation, the Alliance for School Choice and the California Charter School Association. Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a member of the National Teach for America board and the director of the Charter Growth Fund. Christy Walton co-chairs the Children’s Scholarship Fund, and Annie Walton Proietti works with KIPP in Denver, Colorado.

Through their foundation, the Waltons have given to one in four start-ups nationally. But they don’t just give to charter schools and organizations that support charter schools, they also donate to researchers so that studies of charter schools and how they perform can be conducted. These studies, which miraculously wind up supporting the Waltons’ stance on privatizing education, are then featured on their website as proof that charter schools are performing better than public schools. These studies are also used by Betsy DeVos in her endless pursuit to destroy the American public school system.

As you might have guessed, the Walton family, like the DeVos family, is big on political donations. Their modus operandi is to stuff Republican state legislators’ pockets with cash so that they can then outspend and take over the state along with the Republican governors they’ve also funded. Those Republicans then cut the public school funding and give some of it to private schools.

Another method of closing public schools used by the Waltons is to fund charters in one area and flood the market. In Minnesota, the Walton Family Foundation helped start almost half the charters in Minneapolis and have given to 62% of all the city’s charters. Such a high concentration of charter schools in one area takes more and more taxpayer money, choking the life out of public schools.

Just when public school supporters thought it couldn’t get much worse, the foundation has announced they plan to spend another $1 billion by 2020 on privatizing education. Currently they have funded charter schools and voucher programs in California, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Washington D.C.

Stopping the Waltons

Even though independent studies have shown over and over again that a large number of charter schools are not performing as well or better than their public counterparts because they are infested with corruption and no regulations or oversight, pro-charter school advocates like the Waltons and DeVos now claim that the main concern should be parental choice when it comes to education. This is laughable since it was these same advocates that used school and student performance to justify charter schools in the first place.

Education is not about squeezing the last dime out of our teachers by cutting their hours and benefits like the charters funded by the Waltons are doing. Charter schools on average pay their staff 10-15% less than public schools. It’s not like teachers were making that much in the first place. Teachers are paid less because charter schools create a middleman with management companies, and they make sure their pay is very high. Some CEOs are reportedly taking home hundreds of thousands of dollars, while teachers are forced to work evening and weekend jobs to make ends meet just like Walmart employees must do.

I don’t want our schools to be filthy. I don’t want our teachers looking like they’d rather be having dental surgery when they are supposed to be teaching our kids. Our kids deserve the best we can give them. The thought of our schools being run the Walmart way, of running on their business model makes me sick as it should you too. This can’t just be my personal opinion. If parents knew the truth about who was behind the their local charter schools, I don’t believe they would love it like they do Walmart.

If you agree, please contact your school board and local and state representatives. Tell them you will not vote for anyone willing to give your taxpayer funds to create the Department of Walmart Education. Support teachers’ unions, and then choose to send your kids to public schools. Charters, like Walmart stores, cannot stay open if they don’t have customers.